April 7, 2014 10:12:11 AM
JACKSON -- During the 2014 Mississippi legislative session, one of the most influential lawmakers was Rep. Andy Gipson, chairman of the House Judiciary B Committee.
The Republican from Braxton was a main sponsor of the session's most complex legislation, House Bill 585, a package designed to make Mississippi's criminal justice system more efficient and less expensive.
He also was a main sponsor of House Bill 1400, which would ban abortion at 20 weeks, the midpoint of full-term pregnancy.
Though not a sponsor, Gipson helped shepherd passage of another headline-grabber, Senate Bill 2681, called the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act. While supporters say it guarantees government won't interfere with religious practices, opponents say it could allow people to cite religious beliefs to discriminate against gay people, women or those of different races or faiths.
Gipson was first elected to the House in November 2007, representing a mostly rural district in parts of Rankin, Simpson and Smith counties. He's a 37-year-old attorney, Baptist pastor and married father of four. He has an unapologetically conservative manner that some people find admirable and others find aggravating.
After President Barack Obama expressed support for same-sex marriage rights during the 2012 presidential campaign, Gipson posted his opposition on Facebook. The lawmaker/pastor cited Bible verses against homosexuality, including Leviticus 20:13, which reads, in the New International Version: "If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."
In response, Gipson critics created a Facebook page called "Resign Andy Gipson."
"Mississippi State Representative Andy Gipson has called for gay men to be put to death. We call on Andy Gipson to publicly renounce his homophobia, or resign," said the page, which had 876 followers late last week.
Gipson responded to the backlash in May 2012. "I have never publicly or privately called for the killing of any people," he wrote on his campaign website. "I believe all people are created in the image of God and I stand firmly for the sanctity of all human life. All people are entitled to the protection of the laws of our nation and state protecting human life.
"Any reasonable person who reads the actual post can see that both scriptures were cited only for the proposition that same-sex marriage is morally objectionable -- sin," he wrote.
On Thursday, Bryant signed the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act just hours after the three-month legislative session ended late Wednesday. The signing took place in a private ceremony in the Sillers state office building overlooking the Capitol. Gipson was one of the few lawmakers invited. Other guests included leaders of the lobbying group for Southern Baptists in Mississippi and Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council.
After the 20-week abortion ban passed the House, Gipson posed for pictures in the Capitol with lobbyists who pushed the bill, including Daniel McConchie, vice president of government affairs for another Washington-based group, Americans United for Life.
And he's not afraid of opposition to his positions.
In 2013, Gipson was a main sponsor of an open-carry firearms bill that became law after critics sought to block it in court. During this year's debate on the abortion bill, Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, pointed out that Gipson had sponsored past legislation that prompted legal action against the state. Brown said it sounded like Gipson was "trying to set up defenses against any litigation" that would challenge a 20-week abortion ban.
"We cannot control who sues the state over what issue," Gipson responded. "What we can do is to defend against it."
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